Will Middlebrooks and his plate patience
February, 21, 2013
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
One of the more intriguing -- and important players -- of 2013 is Boston Red Sox second-year third baseman Will Middlebrooks. After getting called up last May, the 23-year-old took the league by the proverbial storm, and through his first 40 games hit .331/.368/.592. With a .392 BABIP and a poor 37/7 strikeout/walk ratio, everyone predicted those numbers would eventually nosedive, and sure enough, over his final 35 games until a broken wrist sidelined him in early August, Middlebrooks hit .240/.276/.416 with a similar poor 33/6 strikeout/walk ratio.
What to expect in 2013? Will his patience and aggressiveness ultimately limit his upside? Ben Carsley of Fire Brand takes an in-depth look at Middlebrooks:
When you think of pitches per plate appearance (P/PA), the first player who generally comes to mind is Kevin Youkilis, right? Well, even Youkilis has admitted that early in his career, he was indeed too passive. For example, he led the league in P/PA in 2006 at a stunning 4.43, but slugged just .429. Two years later, in what was perhaps his best season, Youkilis saw his P/PA fall to 4.02 -- just 18th in the league -- but slugged .569 and actually posted a higher OBP as well.
That's a specific and extreme case, but the point remains: P/PA is not the end-all, be-all of patience at the plate, and power hitters especially need to maintain a certain level of aggressiveness to drive balls they think they can get to very far away.
Now, Middlebrooks is certainly a different hitter from Youkilis, but the point is while you want Middlebrooks to gain more patience, you don't want him to lose what gives him the ability to hit 25-plus home runs.
I thought I'd check similar hitters to Middlebrooks, checking all hitters in their age-23 season over the past 10 years who had an isolated power figure of .200 or higher (200-plus plate appearances). That gave us a list of 34 hitters. Middlebrooks ranked 20th with his .221 ISO, the same three-decimal figure as Mark Teixeira and Logan Morrison. However, if we rank the 34 players by lowest walk rate, however, this is what we get:
Jorge Cantu: 3.0 percent
Corey Patterson: 4.3 percent
Middlebrooks: 4.5 percent
Chris Davis: 5.7 percent
Wilin Rosario: 5.9 percent
Ryan Braun: 5.9 percent
Wily Mo Pena: 6.0 percent
Stephen Drew: 6.2 percent
Buster Posey: 6.8 percent
Chris Young: 6.9 percent
That's the top 10. You can see the reason for concern about Middlebrooks' long-term future since we have such famous flops as Patterson and Pena. But we also see Ryan Braun and Buster Posey. Now, Posey was a much different hitter than Middlebrooks, striking out in only 12.4 percent of his plate appearances compared to Middlebrooks' 24.5 percent Braun, however, was closer, striking 22.8 percent of the time.
Anyway, as Ben summed up in his piece: "Those expecting Middlebrooks to turn into a star may be disappointed, but for anyone keeping reasonable expectations for the 24-year-old, 2013 should be an exciting glimpse into the type of player we can expect Middlebrooks to be in the long run."